Forget driverless: AI lights will solve our traffic woes

By Oliver Smith 16 May 2017
Driverless pods are already being tested in the north-west London town of Milton Keynes. Image: Getty / JUSTIN TALLIS / Staff.

Milton Keynes commuters are getting a huge upgrade.

Autonomous cars will fix our traffic crisis, regulating the flow of cars to make our roads more efficient and trips faster, but it’ll be years before enough driverless cars arrive.

Instead, Milton Keynes will next year roll out ‘smart’ traffic lights, part of a £3m project to cover 50 square miles of the city with new technologies.

But what makes these traffic lights so smart?

Lights, cameras, action

Traditional traffic lights operate in basic loops, that’s why you’ll see them changing even when there are no cars or pedestrians around, but these new artificially intelligent lights use cameras to understand what’s happening on the streets around them.

Developer Vivacity Labs says the lights can ‘see’ growing queues of ambulances, buses and cyclists and give more time for these to get over a crossing.

Vivacity's smart lights can skip turning lights if there's no one waiting. Image: Getty/ProjectB.

Similarly, if it detects that there’s no one waiting to turn-right, the lights can skip that part of the light cycle to ease congestion.

Lastly, the camera system can also count and monitor the number and type of vehicles passing through, when there’s a traffic jam, and even where there are empty car parking spaces to create a live map of the town.

A truly smart city

For Milton Keynes, smart traffic lights are only the start.

By 2019 Vivacity’s lights are due to be hooked up to a new centralised town traffic management system, which should be able to adjust the timings on lights across the city and further reduce congestion.

Milton Keynes is also the testbed for the next generation of driverless vehicles which are currently being tested at slow speeds on pavements as a new form of autonomous transport.

Vivacity’s smart lights will be installed from September and are expected to be up and running within a year.

Milton Keynes is fast becoming the ‘smartest’ in Britain.